Thursday, September 7, 2017

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Early U.S. Senate Departures?

At least two U.S. sitting senators, one Democrat and one
Republican, might not be in office by the time the 2018
national mid-term elections take place, and at least two
incumbents, both Republicans, who intend to run for
re-election next year might not be on the 2018 ballot.

These are not big numbers. but because the GOP controls
the senate by only 52-48, and the majority caucus is now
divided on many issues, the political implications could be
very significant.

The Democrat among the two senators in the most
immediate danger is Robert Menendez of New Jersey
who has just gone on trial for an offense, if he is convicted,
that would force him to resign. Of course, he is innocent
until proven guilty, but the charges and evidence appear to
be very serious. Since the governor of New Jersey is
Republican Chris Christie, a conviction would lead to a
GOP appointee should Mr. Menendez have to leave office.
Technically, even if convicted, the senator could refuse to
resign until all his appeals were exhausted, but that would
be exceedingly unpopular in the Garden State since Mr.
Menendez would be occupied with his criminal case and
not likely able fully to fulfill his public duties during an

The Republican incumbent is Luther Strange of Alabama
who faces a run-off race shortly for his party’s nomination
in this year’s election. Mr. Strange was until recently the
state attorney general, but was appointed to the seat when
Jeff Sessions accepted the post of U.S. attorney general under
President Trump. The president has endorsed the incumbent,
but he trails the controversial former state chief justice, Roy
Moore, in the run-off. Mr. Moore is a strong supporter of  Mr.
Trump and a vocal critic of the Senate GOP leadership. If
Mr. Moore does win the run-off, as now expected, the
November race against the Democratic nominee might be
more competitive.

Although his colleagues on both sides of the aisle are hoping
Senator John McCain of Arizona has a quick and full recovery,
he has recently undergone surgery for a brain tumor that is
usually life threatening and fast-developing. Should his illness
force him to resign, the Republican Arizona governor would
appoint his successor. This replacement would also be a  
Republican, but almost certainly not the maverick Mr. McCain
has been, and this could then alter the chemistry of the GOP
senate caucus.

Several incumbent senators from both parties, although in good
health, are more than 80 years old, including Orrin Hatch (R) of
Utah, Diane Feinstein (D) of California, Charles Grassley (R) of
Iowa, Pat Roberts (R) of Kansas, Richard Shelby (R) of Alabama.
Thad Cochran (R) of Mississippi, James Imhofe (R) of Oklahoma,
as well as John McCain. (Almost a quarter of all senators are
more than 70 years old.)

GOP Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona has written a book highly
critical of his own party’s president, and faces a Pro-Trump
conservative challenger in next year’s senate primary His main
opponent, Kelli Ward, leads him by a wide margin in early
polls. GOP Senator Dean Heller of Nevada has opposed the
president and most in his own caucus on several key issues.
He trails his 2018 primary opponent Peter Tarkanian who
is a strong supporter of President Trump.

Should Pro-Trump challengers replace or defeat these GOP
incumbents in the next year. it won’t change the numerical
party margin in the senate, but it would likely change the
ideological tone in that body, giving the president, for
example, more support for his programs. It also could
significantly influence the choice of GOP challengers to
vulnerable Democrats (currently about ten members) next
year, and dramatically alter the policy character of the new
2019 senate, perhaps resulting in new senate leadership.

Both major national parties face internal ideological tensions
and pressures. The recent trend of the Democratic Party to
the Bernie Sanders-Elizabeth Warren-Maxine Waters populist
wing has upset more moderate liberals in the caucus and
the party --- and risks turning off potential support from
independent voters. On the Republican side, there is growing
tension between traditional conservatives and the new populist
conservative wing which provides the base of support for
President Trump.

In 2020, and even before, it will probably be necessary to scrap
the old political scorecards to tally up who is winning and

Copyrigtht (c) 2017 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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